I still remember the first time I saw my name in print. The experience was exhilarating. In a “right place, right time” scenario, I had learned that the county paper was looking for someone to write the weekly column of my town’s news (the previous person having just retired). I was a freshman in high school, but, as the kids say these days, I decided to shoot my shot, even though I was certain they would never hire a fifteen-year-old. But they did.
My first column appeared on December 19, 1997 – my first and last name in small print below the bold text of my town’s name. I know this because each week, my mother cut out my columns and collected them in one of those old school photo albums, the ones with the sticky pages and the clear plastic sheet you peel off and then settle back over whatever you are trying to preserve. All four albums (one for each year I wrote the column) are currently sitting on my bookshelf. This is probably the first time I’ve looked at it since I wrote it, and I’ve already found an error.
For all those inquiring minds out there – I got paid a whopping fifty cents an inch. I was lucky if my month paycheck hit double digits.
But the pay didn’t matter – I was already living a (short) life-long dream of seeing my name in print.
When I got to college and started writing short stories and poems and submitting them to places, I came upon a question that all writers will face (though some will likely never bat an eye at it) – what should my byline be? In some instances (like my college’s literary journal), I opted for my first and last name. For some other pieces, though, that I sent out into the world, I opted for a pen name. Why? Because I was afraid who might find it. Not in a – I wrote mean things about them sort of way – but in a – what if they make fun of me for taking this seriously sort of way? That feeling took a long time to stamp down. (And honestly, looking back, I realize these people would never have randomly googled my name looking for something I might have written, anyway.)
Today, I opt for my full name. Part of this is to take ownership and pride over my writing. I worked hard on it, after all. The other, the use of my middle name, is a bit deeper – it’s to honor my maternal grandmother, from whom I received the name. But also – I’ve stopped caring who takes me seriously or not. I take it seriously.
It’s a personal thing, what you decide to use as your byline. If your want to use a pen name because you’re worried about what people will think of your work – remember that no matter what, there will be people who love it and people who don’t. Here’s a great article to help you with your decision – The Pros and Cons of Using a Pen Name by Kelly Notaras.
Just don’t underestimate the exhilaration of holding your first book (or article or story or poem) and seeing your name. I still get goosebumps. 🙂